Thursday, June 14, 2007

2007 Hyundai Elantra GLS and Limited Road Test

2007 Hyundai Elantra GLS and Limited Road Test

If Toyota has an enemy, it isn't Honda or Nissan. While each makes cars and trucks that compete in the same segments, sportier Honda and Nissan buyers aren't all that interested in the equivalent Toyotas. No, Japan's largest automaker is more about comfort than speed, which is exactly why Hyundai is such a serious threat.

Take the all-new 2007 Elantra, for instance. It not only looks a lot like a Corolla, but it targets Toyota's compact car customers in identical ways. It's ultra-comfortable, smooth riding and a relatively good handler, but that's not all. It's also more powerful, smoother shifting, larger inside and more upscale, while it delivers more features, higher quality materials, more safety equipment and a lower price, all backed up by a longer warranty with better coverage. Get the picture?

Inside the GLS model that Hyundai provided me, the seat fabric is extremely nice and looks like it will last over time, and I dare you to find more comfortable chairs in the compact class. All the cabin plastics are extremely good for this segment too, while the switchgear is also better than average. Everything is laid out in a logical manner, which makes this car very easy to drive right out of the dealer's lot. And there's tons of room up front too.

But it's your passengers that'll be truly surprised when they get in behind you, as the Elantra is so roomy all-round that it's actually classified as a midsize car by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The same can be said for the trunk that, like the interior, holds more than Civic or Corolla, and the standard 60/40 folding rear seats really open up the cargo area for longer items.

Other standard features include power assisted rack and pinion steering, a fully independent suspension system, variable intermittent wipers, a tachometer, power windows all around with an auto down feature for the driver's window, heated mirrors, map/cargo lights, tilt steering, remote keyless entry with an alarm, an armrest with a storage bin up front and an armrest with cupholders in the back, and driver's seat height adjustment.

The base GLS model comes standard with a 4-speaker AM/FM/CD player. It's not a bad system, to say the very least, but for those, including myself, who find the stock unit lacking, I'd highly recommend checking off the $1,700 Preferred Package option box while you're at the dealership. You'll get an upgraded 172-watt AM/FM/XM/CD/MP3 audio system with 6 speakers and a must-have auxiliary input jack. In other markets, this auxiliary jack which allows for an external audio device, like an iPod, isn't even available. I know people (my wife included) who wouldn't even consider a car without one of these. Along with aforementioned items, the Preferred Package also offers air conditioning, a tinted upper windshield band, fog lights, cruise control, illuminated visor mirrors, and extendable front sunvisors. There is really no excuse to upgrade. And, if you want air conditioning or a power sunroof on its own, it'll cost $950 or $900, respectively.

Back to the car itself, I don't think that the majority of people will purchase the base GLS model because a relatively inexpensive jump to the SE provides so much more that you'd have to be really cash strapped not to take advantage. For starters you'll get everything the GLS Preferred Package model has plus larger 16-inch 5-spoke alloy rims wrapped in 205/55HR16 rubber, a leather-wrapped steering wheel with really upscale steering wheel controls on a wheel that can also telescope, plus a leather shift knob and a trip computer... all for an additional $2,500 over the base car's $13,395 sticker price, or just $800 over the aforementioned GLS with the Preferred Package. And if that's not enough, an $1,150 Premium Package will add a power glass sunroof—with the car's extremely high-end roofliner fabric wrapping right around the opening, rather than the chunky piece of cheap plastic that normally surrounds sunroof cutouts in this class—and heated front seats to boot (really unusual with cloth upholstery but much appreciated).

Giving the Elantra five-star frontal and four-star side-impact ratings from the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Association, not to mention a four-star rollover rating, are standard features that are optional on some of its other competitors. You get four-wheel discs with ABS and Electronic Brake Force Distribution (EBD), a total of six airbags, including two front seat-mounted side-impact airbags and two side curtain airbags, protecting front- and rear-seat outboard passengers, active front headrests for whiplash protection, adjustable head restraints for all seating positions, and adjustable front-seat shoulder belt anchors.

Now, if you really want to pamper yourself, you should consider the Elantra Limited, yours for the tidy sum of just under $17,000 and one of my test cars for the week. Most noticeable are its leather clad seats, and it's not the cheap hard leather that most in the compact segment offer, if they have leather at all, but really soft, supple hides with perforations in the seat inserts, all giving the car a rich ambiance. There's even perforated leather on the door insert. But why stop there?

OK, Hyundai USA did stop there, because in other markets the Korean automaker offers an automatic climate control system that's oh so cool it glows an eerie shade of blue. Very chic! Although, at least the aforementioned sun visors are illuminated and feature a handy extension to block out rays that would otherwise seep through from behind the rearview mirror. Not much of a consolation prize? Figured.

Well, how about a telescopic steering column to go along with the lesser model's tilting one? The fact is, every optional feature found in the base GLS and midrange SE can be found as standard in the Limited. But what really sets it apart from the rest is the "Limited" exterior badging that includes a chrome accent rear garnish and the Sun and Sound Package. For $1,300, including a glass sunroof, you get a 220-watt (48-watt upgrade over the standard unit) premium audio system.

A five-speed manual comes standard in all Elantras, even in the top-line Limited, while a four-speed automatic is optional for $1,000. Surprisingly, both are good for the same 28 mpg city and 36 mpg highway fuel consumption rating. Not bad.

When out on the road, acceleration is what you'd expect in this class, decent but nothing awe-inspiring. I noticed that the automatic gearbox lacked a little punch when going up steeper hills, something that a five- or six-speed would probably cure. As of yet, no competitors offer a six-speed in this class, mind you, although Honda's Civic comes with five forward gears. The Elantra's automatic gearbox is surprisingly smooth, however, which really fits in with the luxury atmosphere of the top-line Limited model.

The same can be said for handling, which is good enough but hardly spectacular. It rolls a bit when going into corners quickly, and dives somewhat during hard braking. Then again, most cars in this class react similarly, excepting Mazda's sporty 3 and Mitsubishi's all-new Lancer. The Elantra rides better than either of these two, however, and I'd even venture to say that it's the smoothest in the compact class. For commuting back and forth to work in rush hour traffic, I'd opt for comfort over speed any day of the week.

So, while this little Hyundai's styling won't be for everyone, it's so impressive in every other way I think it'll find a lot more homes than its predecessor, and with Hyundai rating "above average" in J. D. Power and Associates 2007 Initial Quality Study, you shouldn't be concerned about reliability. If that's not enough to appease your worries, Hyundai even took the top spot away from Toyota in Strategic Vision's 2007 Total Quality Index, with the most vehicle segment leaders.

What's more, its five-year or 60,000 mile bumper to bumper and ten-year or 100,000 mile powertrain warranty is one of the best in the business, padding that comfort zone even further.

So, if you're on the lookout for a small car, and comfort, quality and dependability are high priorities, check out the Elantra. It'll surprise you.

June 12, 2007
by Trevor Hofmann / American Auto Press

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